Town planning

Plant design: The Parisian jungle

Paris is getting greener by the day. By putting nature into objects, hybrid furniture on our streets, and plants on our walls, designers, architects and landscape artists are opening windows into our planet’s diversity.

In the past, during the long winter months in Paris, there was hardly a stem or stalk of green in sight. Now every month has its verdant pleasures. Architects and designers have transformed the capital into a leafy haven where the concrete sprouts with flowers. It’s a breath of fresh air for the city’s oxygen-starved residents, whichever neighborhood they live in. This new breed of designers tests, shapes and hones their research to reconcile nature and urban planning, design and technology, vegetable and mineral, reasoned design and the wilderness. Pioneer Patrick Nadeau – the first plant designer, inventor of the concept, and creator of environments where plants are an integral part of buildings and architecture – is the common ancestor of most designers working today. The research done by famous botanist, Patrick Blanc, has also had a big impact. He has revolutionized the look of metropolises, from Paris to Singapore, with his spectacular planted walls that cling to the sides of buildings, creating vast green-shaded tableaux and reliefs sculpted by the thickness of leaves.

Paris has proven to be fertile ground for his designs. After creating his first in 1986 at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (19th), the musée du quai Branly (7th), the Pershing Hall hotel (8th), luxury stores and head offices have all featured his work, not forgetting the wall on rue d’Aboukir (2nd), which is a moving sight, whatever the season. Patrick Blanc doesn’t see himself as an artist; he’s a seeker of green gold, excited by the rising sap of discovery. Much in demand, he’s a regular contributor to top design events, like the Milan Furniture Fair, and is looked up to by younger designers like Amaury Gallon, founder of Jardins de Babylone, who restored the wall at the musée du quai Branly. Winner of France’s top landscape architecture award – the Victoires du Paysage – in 2016 for Axa’s hanging gardens, Jardins de Babylone were also awarded the title of Paris Sustainability Actor by Paris city hall for the exterior wall of the EDF’s head office on the Champs-Élysées. The Paris regional transport authority – the RATP – has commissioned him to vegetalize the Jaurès metro station on Line 6, in the 19th arrondissement. He has selected 145 species from the Paris region for their ability to grow without much water. The design includes plant-shaped windowboxes created especially by Jardins de Babylone. “We use organic materials, because we’re dealing with plants after all, although for the platforms we had to go with artificial plants, it was technically or practically impossible otherwise,” explains Gallon.

Landscape architect and urban planner, Gallon is also a designer. He created the spectacular Kodama plant lamp filled with stabilized moss glimpsed through an openwork structure, a reference to the primal forest of Yakushima in Japan. The idea is echoed in the work of prominent plant designer Alexis Tricoire, whose phantasmagorical creations include exhibitions and installations at the Grand Palais, the Jardin des Tuileries (8th), the Museum d’histoire naturelle (5th) and the Cité de la Mode et du Design (13th). Oddly, he stumbled into the field by chance. Asked by Patrick Blanc to handle the scenography for his exhibition at the Espace Electra a decade ago, he immersed water plants in large test tubes representing cave plants under a lush ceiling.

“The idea, which was totally new, was to take plants out of window boxes and landscaped gardens and to incorporate them into objects, to make them living materials staged in spectacular ways.” Today, his creations are both infinitely large or fit into our daily routines, and always include a small corner of vegetation – a perfect marriage of organic, industrial and technical. The smallest of these, the Babylone chandelier, is a celestial globe, in which encapsulated nature is heated by its light. These tiny greenhouses incorporate a new LED technology, which leaves more space for plants and reduces diameter inches.

This spring, his installation, Monstera Dubia, at the Beaugrenelle centre in Paris (15th) paid tribute to the primal Amazon forest and its incredible plant, which finds cunning ways to grow without light, and which here took the form of large aluminum creepers. Like Alexis Tricoire, Mathieu Lehanneur has made his mark on plant design with his revolutionary organic, and slightly crazy, furniture. After working with living matter as a material in its own right, Lehanneur now symbolizes nature – and particularly the ocean – through other materials. In this case, he plays with the mineral solidness of marble, which he manages to give the appearance of having a liquid surface. His series of tables and benches, Ocean Memories, is currently on display at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery (4th). We also find the sea in his collection of glazed ceramic pieces, 50 Seas, presented at Christies. The same passion for organic models is present in his designs: a water drop mirror (Le Passage), a sunflower candelabra (Sunflower), a table lamp that resembles an arch of water lit from inside, and a glass cloud ceiling lamp (Cloudy).

The spectacular work of Pablo Reinoso is also on show at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, and one of his works, Racines de France, has been displayed in the gardens of the Élysée, the residence of the president of France. It forms part of his Spaghetti Bench series. This bench, the sort found in the street, a symbol of our urban lives, has creepers growing from the end of its slats, as if it wants to return to its original state and be a tree again.

David Bitton, on the other hand, is happy to work with plexiglass, which is light, unbreakable, and a good light conductor. And light is what lies at the center of the organic designs of this architect, specialist in plant decoration, and cultivator of curiosity and hunger for design. His light vases link up everything he loves and make it possible to work on other scales, concentrating on architectural shapes, complex techniques and the grace of plant life. They can be remotely controlled, without a switch, by downloading a simple application, and the stand can be customized. His plant chandeliers work in the same way and should shortly be available in crystal. “For years, I was very clear in my mind about what these objects were, but miniature technology didn’t exist then, so I couldn’t make things as thin and light as I needed to create the light effect I dreamed of,” explains the designer. Times have moved on. The bouquets of floating chandeliers at Lachaume (8th) – one of the capital’s oldest florists – featured at this year’s Paris Design Week, under plexiglass – were very beautiful, as if the flowers were floating in a colorful halo. A perfect fit for the city of light.

By Florence Halimi. Pablo Reinoso, Alexis Tricoire, Patrick Blanc. - Published the

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